It's a back-to-back weekend to close out a formidable week for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Of the two games already on the books this week, they've gone to the shootout twice, conceding a game in Washington and then coming home and getting an important two points against a divisional foe in the Detroit Red Wings. The Bolts and the Wings square off again tomorrow at Joe Louis Arena, but first the two clubs have to play Metro Division teams (the Wings face the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Joe tonight; Tampa Bay is in New Jersey to play the Devils). Is it possible to get caught up looking-ahead to Sunday's contest? Maybe more for the fans than for the players; if they were willing to settle for overtime/the shootout on Thursday night, conceding a point to a division rival, then they won't be focusing on the fact they're playing said-division rival again four days later.
First things first, the Lightning are at the Rock tonight to take on New Jersey, who handled the Bolts squarely and easily in the first meeting between the two teams on October 29th. Jon Cooper was not pleased at all with that effort and the lack of shots:
"When you get less than 20 shots in a hockey game, that's not very hard to play against," Cooper said. "I know Marty Brodeur is a first ballot Hall of Famer, but he could have had a cigarette and a cup of coffee and played that game. That's what's frustrating."
That, the lack of shots, is something that's plaguing the Lightning but also plaguing the rest of the league. Save percentage is up, shots are down. This is after all the tweaks that the NHL general managers made to goalie equipment during the off-season in order to try to, y'know, stimulate offensive output. The truth remains that goals don't just happen and aren't just awarded; you have got to shoot the puck. The Lightning currently average 28.1 shots per game, that's good for 24th in the league. They're scoring 2.68 goals a game, that's tied for 12th with the Vancouver Canucks. More shots don't necessarily guarantee more goals, but they sure do raise chances for the lamp to be lit in your favor.
Pierre-Cedric Labrie returns to the lineup this evening after missing the last several games with an arm ailment and strep throat. Defenseman Mark Barberio is scheduled to be a healthy scratch, meaning the Lightning will go back to a 12 forward / 6 defenseman scheme for the night. Barberio sits, Taormina the former Devil, skates... Interesting.
With the back-to-back scheduling, it'll be Anders Lindback in goal tonight for the Lightning. What we should hope to see in this one is the Lightning playing with a little more effort than Lindback's last few times out. Last weekend's loss to the Winnipeg Jets was infuriating because it was Lindback's effort that was keeping the Lightning afloat during much of the game. He is currently 2-5-1 with a .887 save percentage and 3.10 GAA. Counterpoint: 24.5 shots-against per appearance and an .887 save percentage isn't entirely on a lack of effort by the team in front of the netminder.
As of this writing, the starter for the Devils hasn't been confirmed as Martin Brodeur or Cory Schneider. The Devils are certainly underperforming (but, as I said last time out - don't be foolish enough to underestimate them). They're fourth-to-last in the Eastern Conference right now with 30 points in 33 games (12-15-6). That's a sight better than the Islanders, Panthers and certainly Buffalo, but it's still far below the standard that you'd expect from a Lou Lamoriello team. With how the Lightning tend to play in Newark, it's vital that they raise their effort level, or they may just concede 2 points on the road once again.
Tonight's the 32nd game of the NHL season, 16 fewer than last season's total 48 game effort. I invoke that fact because after Thursday's shootout victory over Detroit, the Lightning reached 18 wins for the season, which is equal to the total number of wins they amassed all of last season. The currently are a solitary point away from reaching last season's point total (they went 18-26-4 in 2013, and are currently 18-10-3).
There's a watch party tonight in St. Pete Beach at Guy Harvey's Outpost.
Oh, yeah, one other note: That Stamkos guy decided to put on a pair of skates. He's not quite ready to come back from a broken tibia; maybe next week. (Author note: horray tongue-in-cheek sarcasm!) Victor Hedman also participated in drills this morning at Prudential Center; he will not be in the lineup tonight and may be out up to another week.
Other Game Coverage:
- Tampa Bay Lightning official team preview
- Full coverage on SB Nation